After a day’s drive through eastern Oregon, and a night camping on the banks of the Columbia river, we set out to explore the small communities of Klickitat County, WA.
The first that grabbed us off Hwy 97 with a promise of a historic home tour was Goldendale.
The town is well-maintained, with beautiful old homes on nearly every corner. The downtown had several shops and restaurants that warranted closer inspection and at the end of the block, we were stopped in our tracks by “The General Store”.
The General Store is a large white brick building with some style and a sign that peaked our interest.
Stepping through the front door, we were overwhelmed by the riot of possibility. Hardware, camping, art and office supplies, clothing, toys, and even a promise of furniture! This was a real general store!
Owner, Jack Methe, explained that in a small community like Goldendale if you specialized, you only served one need for your customers, which meant that they had to make the trip to a box store 40 miles away anyway. So he set out to serve MOST of their needs.
While I stood and watched him wait on customers, people left with candy, a flash drive, office supplies, craft items and kitchen items. He knew these people, listening to one complain about a slow morning, encouraging another on her way to exercise, and joking with another. The locals know he’s there and support him.
So what about visitors? Jack would like to see more. In a community that has to leave town for so much, tourism dollars are clearly what are going to help to save the downtown stores.
“When I moved here 5 years ago to take over this family business, I thought I was moving to Mayberry, USA,” said Jack. “It’s not like that at all! There is as much complexity and variety of opinion on everything as back in my former home in New Orleans. Some townspeople support tourism, and others are afraid of losing our small town feeling if we encourage it. But someone has got to support our downtown businesses.”
JACK’S BIGGEST MARKETING SUCCESSES
Jack supplies the locals and provides extra for visitors. This is the market mix that started the famous Wall Drug in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota!
The advertising Jack does is to the locals. He leaves generating foot traffic to the Chamber of Commerce.
JACK’S MARKETING CHALLENGES
Jack would like to see the town do a better job of branding itself. He sees all the possibility, with the historic buildings, the public observatory, wineries, and events and would like to see a common theme.
NOTE: I’ll be talking more about branding and central Washington in a few days. The success of Leavenworth WA has given the concept of “branding” a whole different meaning in these parts.
LESSONS WE CAN LEARN FROM JACK
1. Jack has better customer focus than almost any other small town businessperson I’ve ever talked to. He tailors his inventory to serve them. He knows them and talks to each as they walk in and leave the store.
2. He has learned that carrying a little bit of everything in a town with so few stores selling things that locals need keeps his customers coming in. Jack makes locals happy and so does his inventory. For instance, he has the most extensive stock of themed suspenders I’ve ever seen – Larry King should know about this guy – and he stocks them because his customers expect to find them here.
THINGS THAT JACK CAN DO TO GROW HIS TOURIST BUSINESS
In every survey I’ve read in the past 12 years, shopping ranks in the top two things people do when they travel. The General Store in Goldendale would capture the seasoned shopper for hours of fun. My husband Ed, a non-shopper, came up to the counter with a little gripper cloth to help open jars, declaring that he’d been looking for something like it for ages.
THIS STORE WOULD GET SHOPPERS OFF HWY 97 AS SURELY AS WALL DRUG PULLS THEM OFF INTERSTATE 90…. If they only knew about it.
Wall Drug did it with signage offering free ice water. Jack could do it by getting himself on the World Wide Web. He doesn’t have a web site right now and he needs one.
With a simple Word Press style web site, he could open his doors to the world, and everyone researching a trip to wineries, the observatory and area events would find him. With a little help optimizing his site for search engines, he could pull people off 97 for as many reasons as he has products.
Word Press is a free CMS web platform that allows business owners to set up and manage the content of their own web site. I always suggest that people get help setting their site up unless their tech savvy, but the day-to-day management can be done without having to pay anyone else to do it.
Jack and his wife Kim could showcase their little downtown General Store online, and with a short blog post once a week build an online following that will turn into customers as surely as ice water built Wall Drug into what it is today.
Keep up the great work Jack! The Internet was made for places like yours!